Daring to Take On Digital Asset Management
DAM systems can be profit centers--if they are well-designed, thoroughly researched, well-marketed
Digital asset management (DAM) is beginning to be looked at in a whole new way as companies involved in all aspects of print production
rethink their entire workflow. Many print shops, however, have yet to take the step of developing any kind of formal DAM system, let alone a
full-blown, browser-based, and customer-accessible system.
Often, shops simply don"?t know where to begin"?and more than a few have heard horror stories of implementation plans gone bad. There"?s
little doubt that properly implemented DAM sys"?tems can be profit centers; nor is there any doubt that improperly implemented systems can
be disastrous. When precisely planned for, correctly integrated, well man"?aged, and effectively maintained, however, a DAM system can benefit
both your shop and your clients.
It"?s all in the planning
Even with the most flexible modular systems, the key to suc"?cessful implementation is in careful planning. And the first ques"?tion to ask is,
"What do I need?"? As a guideline to figuring that out, it"?s helpful to know the most common pitfalls that arise in implementing DAM.
The deadliest adversary to DAM is a lack of clear business objectives and commitment to the process by management"?from both a financial
and strategic perspective. One of the more common errors is to believe that DAM can be purchased "off the shelf,"? implemented by the IT
department, and not require any further attention. In fact, one of the surest ways to cripple DAM is to simply toss the project to the IT
department and say, "This is what we need. Build it and then let us know when it"?s up and running."?
Instead, it"?s critical to involve all of the key personnel that will be impacted from the very beginning of the decision-making pro"?cess. Those
are the people who know exactly what their needs are and will be able to tell instantly if a proposed feature will fit the need or not. For
example, it"?s not very helpful to simply say, "We need an archive of images."?
Your production folk will know that they need to handle JPEG, TIFF, EPS, and other formats of images. They will know at what
look at a thumbnail, what metadata would be helpful to the production process, whether or not a specific naming convention can be
implemented, and much more. Not seeking their input from the outset will likely result in a system that is either inef"?ficient or simply will not
be used once it is installed.
Everyone who will be affected"?from management to cus"?tomer service, design, marketing, and sales"?should have a chance to weigh in with
their own needs and concerns.
Pitfalls of the process
For a DAM system to be effective, it must be kept up to date. That might seem obvious, but it"?s surprising how many companies don"?t provide
for the ongoing process of maintaining the system. As much as vendors try to build in automation to the systems, user intervention is not only
necessary to get the system up and running, but must be involved on an ongoing basis.
All of the data and metadata that make the system truly use"?ful takes time, energy, and commitment. The more sophisticated
the system (that is, the more money you spend up-front) the more automated the system can be"?but there is nothing out there that can
replace human intervention for deciding the best way to handle all of the data. It"?s sometimes possible to out"?source the maintenance and
building of the databases, but the work must be done or the system will simply begin to decay from the moment it is up and running.
A related issue is the quality of the data coming in. Since DAM reflects only what is put into it, the old adage of "garbage in, garbage out"?
definitely applies to DAM data. While it"?s important to get the right data, it"?s also important to get the data right. That means it has to be in
the right format to be read by all those who need to access it. It may be important for the production crew to have the image, but it"?s also
important for the customer to have the correct naming convention, the billing department to have the date the image was entered into the
system or modified, and for the finishing department to have untouched JDF data to set up the folder for the printed job. Anything missing
could cause problems at each step of the operation, and it all needs to be right from the time the image enters the system.
You also need to know from the outset who will need to access the data and how they need to access it. Will they need to convert it, download
it, repurpose it, transfer it, edit it, etc.? The more people who can use the data, the more valuable the asset will be. Of course, security can
also be an issue, so there must be safeguards to stop unauthorized access. This is another reason it"?s important to include everyone who
might need to gain entry to your DAM system in the initial discussions.
Resolution, formats, and more
While a thumbnail is a pretty simple thing to create, it is really just an alias to show you where the file is and a preview of what it looks like.
The hard part is getting the image itself right. Knowing all of the possible intended uses for the image determine what resolution the file must
be, what format it must be, what meta-
2006data it must hold, and how the color is managed. There are scores of factors to consider, including:
"? Will the file be printed, if so, on what device and at what size?
"? Is color critical, and is color management needed?
"? How else might the file be used?
"? Will the format of the file be usable by all of the systems and platforms it"?s intended to be used with?
"? Will the image need to be resized or the resolution changed, and if so, can that process be automated?
"? How will files be moved from one user to another, and is the size of the file and speed of transfer acceptable?
"? Do files need to be compressed?
"? By what process will files be entered into the system, and who will actually do the data entry? What parts of the entry can be automated?
"? Are there any unique needs for your DAM system, like the ability to compare several images side-by-side or in some specific order?
Archive and backup
Once you"?ve brought a file into the system, keeping it safe is a prime component of any DAM product. The software is only part of it, but it is a
critical part. The user interface is probably the most important feature. Being able to get access to all of your images is a given; what
differentiates the products is how easy that is to accomplish.
The truth is, the right software is as much a function of how you want to use the system, because different DAM systems are designed with
specific uses in mind. Being able to customize the interface for your specific needs is usually seen as one of the most compelling features.
You"?ll want to give a lot of attention not only to what you are archiving, but how you are doing it and how the system back-ups are created and
maintained. Do you need to have everything online and accessible to everyone, or is near-line storage appro"?priate? Will the backups be done
automatically? Will there be built-in redundancy? Does the system need to be accessed even when backups are being performed? Is there
adequate storage space and is the system expandable "on-the-fly"?? Many printers have also faced the reality that changing media has made
old storage systems obsolete in a few short years.
Wide-format print shops also need to consider the specific needs of their business for very large images and how those images need to be
displayed and accessed. Is there enough data in the thumbnail to be able to identify an image visually? And can you pan, zoom, or scroll on a
very large image without encountering unacceptable delays?
Does DAM pay off?
There are plenty of relatively basic image-processing and archiving programs that can be purchased for as little as $100. These utilities create
catalogs of thumbnails of images that can be searched to retrieve images. That"?s all well and good, and it may be as much as some print
providers need. You get a file, throw it in a catalog, and when you need that image, you look in the catalog and it tells you where to find it.
Some of those systems are modular and can be built up into a quite sophisti"?cated system, which can then fetch a price ranging from $5000 to
well over $50,000 just for the basic hardware and software. According to vendors, it"?s not unreasonable to figure on triple that cost to actually
get the system configured and all of the assets archived, categorized, and put online.
All of this makes it clear that it is just as easy to over-build a DAM system as to under-build one. Print shops with tight bud"?gets can ill afford
to pay for more power than they need, but it would be self-defeating to put together a system that simply cannot do what you need it to. One
important protection many vendors build into their systems is modularity"?the ability to add components and capabilities as you need them. As
much as the vendors tout the efficiency, reliability, and necessity of DAM systems, actual users report widely divergent views on the profitability
of DAM systems. Yes, they can be profit centers if they are well-designed, thoroughly researched, and effectively marketed. But many printers
we"?ve talked to also consider DAM systems to be a necessary evil that costs them more money than they initially thought.
Why such a difference? Most of the printers who saw their systems as a cost center did not fully develop their capabilities, or poorly planned the
implementation. A few made the conscious decision to not develop the system because they did not want to get into that market. They
considered having in-house control of their assets, but they felt attempting to market services based on those assets was either beyond their
technical skills, not what their customers were asking for, or simply not worth the effort.
On the other hand, many users of DAM systems have found that the system itself opened up new marketing possibilities they had not even
considered when they began looking into the systems. But all of those folks will tell you that turning a profit with DAM required extensive
research, development, marketing, and investment.
Stephen Beals is the digital prepress manager for Finger Lakes Press in Auburn, NY, and writes our regular "Digital Workflow"? column.
Here"?s a marketplace sampling of DAM solutions, alphabetized by vendor. We"?ve included browser software as well as cataloging software;
prices are indicated where available from company websites:
"? ACDSystems (www.acdystems.com): ACDSee 9 Photo Manager ($39.99) and ACDSee Pro Photo Manager ($129.99).
"? Adobe (www.adobe.com): Camera Raw workflow with tagging and sorting capabili"?ties has been integrated into Adobe Bridge, which can be in
found in Creative Suite 2 ($1199 premium, $899 standard).
"? Artesia Digital Media Group (www.artesia.com): Artesia DAM.
"? BrighTec (www.mediabeacon.com): MediaBeacon.
"? Camera Bits (www.camerabits.com): Photo Mechanic ($150).
"? Canto (www.canto.com): Cumulus 7 is available in versions for small/medium workgroups and in enterprise/large-busi"?ness editions.
"? ClearStory Systems (www.clearstorysystems.com): ActiveMedia Essentials (for small businesses), ActiveMedia, and an Enterprise Media Server.
Also offers Cre"?ativeConnections, an ActiveMedia module for Adobe InDesign creatives.
"? DAMUseful Software (www.damuseful.com): Rank and File script product ($20) allows for the mapping of labels and ratings from Adobe Bridge
"? Corbis (http://pro.corbis.com): Its modular Corbis Media Management platform integrates a DAM component (the company acquired
eMotion in mid-2005).
"? Extensis (www.extensis.com): Portfolio 8, available in standard edition ($199.95) as well as in various server and enterprise editions.
"? FileMaker (www.filemaker.com): FileMaker Pro 8.5 ($299) and FileMaker Pro 8.5 Advanced (adds customization and devel"?opment tools,
"? FotoWare (www.fotoware.com): Foto"?Station Classic 5.2 ($539) and FotoStation Pro 5.2 ($599).
"? GraphicDetail (www.graphicdetail.com): ThumbsUp multimedia management solution; Professional ($495) and Enter"?prise ($995) versions.
"? HindSight Ltd (www.hindsightltd.com): StockView V image-management program ($395).
"? IDimager (www.idimager.com): Offers IDimager Personal ($59) and IDimager Pro"?fessional ($89) versions; a "Lite"? edition is now a free
"? Schawk Digital Solutions (www.schawkds.com): Its modular Blue software includes a DAM component.
"? Interwoven (www.interwoven.com): MediaBin product line includes Asset Server, Syndication Manager, Content Intel"?ligence, and other tools.
"? iView Multimedia (www.iview-multimedia.com): MediaPro 3 ($199). Microsoft acquired the company in June 2006.
"? MediaDex (www.mediadex.com): Offers a single-user DAM solution, in standard ($49.95) and professional ($79.95) versions.
"? Meta Communications (www.meta-comm.com): Digital Storage Manager 2.0 (starts at $1695) available as a single solution, or as part of new
Workgroups 2006 suite (starts at $4995).
"? NetXposure (www.netx.net): Image Portal is available in Lite, X, Standard, and Enterprise editions.
"? North Plains Systems (www.north"?plains.com): TeleScope Creative Studio and TeleScope Enterprise solutions.
"? Photools (www.photools.com): iMatch3 image-management solution ($59.95).
"? Picdar (www.picdar.com): UK-based company offers its Media Mogul DAM tool.
"? Quark (www.quark.com): Quark"?s Digi"?tal Media Server is an enterprise platform that streamlines digital-content manage"?ment in conjunction
with Quark Media Portal.
"? R.R. Donnelley Premedia Technologies (www.rrdonnelley.com): ImageMerchant.
"? Screen (www.screenusa.com): True"?Flow 3 Archive Manager.
"? SeeFile (www.seefile.com): SeeFile Entry ($399), Pro ($699), Studio ($1199), Bureau ($1995), and Corporate ($3995) versions.
"? Wave Corporation (www.wavecorp.com): MediaBank 3.1, in Workgroup and Enterprise editions.
"? Xinet (www.xinet.com): WebNative.
Becoming the "?Omniscient Puppetmaster"? of Images
By PETER KROGH
A sound DAM system comprises several interrelated components. These include a naming and filing protocol, a storage medium (including
backup), organizational tools, and editing and output tools. The integration of these subsystems enables a compre"?hensive approach to
sorting and working with your collection of images as a whole. Think "omniscient puppetmaster"?"?you know where everything is, and you can
control it from a single place.
Perhaps the most useful feature of sound DAM practice is that it enables you to make better use of the work that you already do. Inevitably,
you are doing some kind of sorting and some kind of evaluation of the quality of your images. By implementing an integrated workflow, you
will be better able to leverage your work, reduce inefficiencies, and gain full value from everything you do to your images.
Rules of sound digital asset management
Some of you will adopt the exact nuts and bolts of my system wholesale. For others, it will be important to adjust the system to reflect your
different needs. In any case, there are fundamental principles at work that everyone can take advantage of:
"? Systematize: One of the most common mistakes that you can make when building digital archives is the use of a hodgepodge of DAM
practices. Of course, your system will change over time, as you get smarter about digital and DAM technologies, as your tools change, and as
your image collection grows. It"?s important, however, to bring work done under older protocols in line with your new techniques. If you leave lots
of work organized in different ways, you won"?t be able to leverage its value fully, and you risk being able to ensure its integrity over time.
"? Don"?t rely on your memory: Some folks have told me that they don"?t need a DAM system because they can remember everything: the entire
contents of their collections, where all the pictures are stored, and what each version was created for. Realistically, though, not only are you
unlikely to be able to remember all of the details, but if you try to do so, you will be missing out on many of the benefits that a catalog-driven
"? Be comprehensive: The more universal your cataloging struc"?tures and practices are, the more value and efficiency you can get from your
images. Consistency of organization enables faster and more reliable searching of your collection, and collecting together related images
maximizes the value of each individual image.
"? Build for the future: The most obvious ramifications of this principle have to do with storage, longevity, and scalability. Com"?puters have
been around long enough now that the challenges related to storage media are pretty well known. We know that we will have to migrate our
files eventually and that storage media can fail. We also can see that the amount of storage we will need will grow exponentially over time. It"?s
important that a system be able to grow orders of magnitude larger without having to be com"?pletely restructured.
"? Do it once: Here"?s where DAM can actually start aiding productiv"?ity immediately. It starts when you can rate the files for quality and annotate
them for content. By enabling you to quickly narrow down your search results to just the best and most appropriate images, it immediately
streamlines the image-preparation workflow.
Every time you identify characteristics of your images"?from quality, to comment, to usage"?you add value. If you use inte"?grated DAM tools to
do this organizational work, you can save and reuse the valuable information that you have recorded. Think of times you have sorted images
for one reason or another. Once you re-sort those images, all of your prior sorting work is lost. DAM cataloging software, however, lets you sort
into virtual sets, so that you can save a nearly infinite number of groupings of images. By using these virtual sets, you save search time.
"? But don"?t overdo it: Once you see the control that good man"?agement gives you over your collection of images, you might find yourself going
"DAM happy."? You need to strike a balance between what"?s useful and what"?s a waste of time.
Browsers versus cataloging software
There are two primary types of DAM software: browsers and cataloging software. A browser reads information from a file but does not store it
separately. Cataloging software stores infor"?mation in its own separate file (the software and the catalog document it makes are distinct from
the images themselves).
Over the life of your collection, you may end up using several different DAM applications, either sequentially or concurrently. For example, you
might use Adobe Bridge to do initial sorting of your images, but do your enterprise-level cataloging in iView MediaPro, Canto Cumulus, or an
enterprise-level application such as North Plains Telescope. And some years down the line, you may switch to another software package entirely to admin"?ister your catalog. It"?s important to remember that it is the infor"?mation about your photographs, not the software you use or the
catalog document itself, that is of real value.
At first, a browser and a cataloging application look similar. Each one can display multiple files, sort according to multiple criteria, and send off
the files to be worked on. But behind the scenes, there is an important difference: A browser extracts data from the file on a more or less "real
time"? basis and builds its utility around this information. DAM cataloging software, however, keeps a permanent catalog of information about
the images, including thumbnails.
Here are a few lists to help you get your head around the dif"?ference between an image browser and cataloging software. The following are
browsers: Adobe Bridge, Camera Bits"? Pho"?tomechanic, and Fotoware Fotostation 4.5. And the following are cataloging applications: Canto
Cumulus; Extensis Portfolio; iView Media Pro; iMatch from Photools; ACDSee; FotoStation Pro 5; and IDimager.
Why is this difference between browser and cataloging applica"?tions important? The difference between the application types doesn"?t really
become apparent until you have a large number of files to work with. Because cataloging software keeps the extracted information in a
database, it has several important advantages over a browser:
"? It"?s DAM faster: One thing cataloging software can do better than a browser is to return search results much faster. Because cataloging
software keeps all the organizational information in a database document, it only needs to do a local search to find, for instance, all images
with "Josie"? written in the keywords. A browser may have to look through the keywords of 100,000 files stored on several different drives to
return the same results. And if the software is structured to continually update the search results, it will be constantly re-indexing this
"? It allows you to have virtual sets: Virtual sets are like folders that you keep images in, except that they all point to the same original file.
This enables you to include an image as part of mul"?tiple sets without having to copy the file multiple times.
The best of the cataloging applications will also let you organize your groups into subset groups, so that, for example, within the "Personal
Work"? group is a subset called "Projects,"? and within that is the "X Project"? group. This set of images can, in turn, be organized into
"Everything,"? "Select,"? and "Web Page"? groups.
"? It knows where stuff is supposed to be: Because it knows where files are supposed to be, it can assist you in keeping track of images that
may have been erased, renamed, or moved accidentally. A cataloging application will be able to tell you that an image is missing and should
be found or restored from your backup, while a browser will simply omit the file.
"? It allows faster backup of important work: Cataloging soft"?ware allows you to back up your valuable sorting work quickly and thoroughly.
Because the cataloging application stores all the information in one place, it is easy to back up your work after every sorting session. If you are
using a browser to do the sort"?ing work, you will need to write a sorting term"?a keyword"?back into the original files themselves. You may then
have a bunch of widely distributed files that you need to back up, if you want to be sure that you are saving this work. This adds quite a bit of
time and complexity to the process of saving your work, compared to simply saving the catalog document. Of course, good cataloging software
also enables you to write that sorting work back into the actual files when you want to.
"? It allows you to work with offline images: Cataloging software can work with offline image files, such as images at a different loca"?tion, or
photos that are on disks that are not currently connected to your computer.
Peter Krogh (www.peterkrogh.com) is a veteran commercial and editorial photographer who works for magazines, corporations, and agencies worldwide. This
information is excerpted from his The DAM Book: Digital Asset Management for Photographers (O"?Reilly Media, http://digitalmedia.oreilly.com).